One of the reasons for my recent trip to Indiana was to help my mom clear out belongings that have accrued after forty two years of marriage, Four decades of hardware and camping gear, sports equipment, hobbies, model trains planes, paintings by the dozen, and mountains of books and boxes of record albums. My grandparents, upon their passing, left their own legacy, lamps and paintings, old hand tools and a stack of Stetson and Dobbs hats—mens--apparently my Grandmother’s parents had accused my Grandfather of being a “Dandy.”
As my mother nears 70, and contemplates a change of residence, this stuff is a weight on her mind. She wants it to be gone. And yet it can’t just be tossed away in a dumpster or carted away to Goodwill. One must at least lay eyes on ones history, scan VHS tapes, finger through old photos, letters and files. And then there is everything else, from curtain rods to children’s toys to furniture. It all feels like it should be of some value, sentimental or financial. It’s hard to believe that so many material items that gave such joy when first acquired wouldn’t still have value now. In letting them go, you feel the need for some ritual, a gesture, or attempt to recognize each item’s innate worth.
And that ritual, in our town in the Midwest, is the garage sale.
On Wednesday, my friend Jennifer came over, and we spent three hours transferring the items my mother most wanted to clear out from the attic and basement:
On Thursday the ad went into the newspaper. That evening a man drove in our driveway and wanted a bicycle. This is cheating of course. What of the people who follow the rules and arrive at 8AM to find it gone? But he met the $25 asking price and my mom guiltily let it go. After all, the primary goal was get rid of things, right?
On Friday we priced our items. I googled items like T-Squares, and folding music stands, charging less than a third of their new value. A friend came over and sorted through the tools, drills and saws, explaining what metal shears are used for. That sledgehammers no longer have wooden handles, that our drill wasn’t worth much as a drill but could be used a paint stirrer. He recommended that we abandon selling assorted pipe fittings and a sump-pump. “They’re metal,” he said, “Take them to the scrap yard and they’ll pay you by the weight.
Although many of the items verged on vintage, a few of them seemed cooler than the others. A flexi-flyer sled from the late twenties. The stack of hats in hat boxes. I googled the make and model of a 50s slide projector and found asking price of almost two hundred dollars. Someone was asking almost three hundred for the antique wooden tripod similar to ours. So I placed fifty dollar tags on each and said if they didn’t sell we’d find an antique store in town.
Saturday morning, we willfully ignored the gray and drippy skies and toted out our treasures, heavy downy sleeping bags, tents made out of canvas, lamps from the 60s, neckties from the 70s, lumber and old sawhorses, unopened Matchbox cars purchased for Christmas stockings but forgotten before the day came. We wrestled with my dads over-sized, handmade easel, and I limped a bookcase onto the lawn where it could be seen by passing traffic. As 8AM approached, I took our sign out to the street.